BFF Date Night Fun

September 24, 2011

My BFF and I have try to schedule weekly “date nights” with each other, which double as weekly play dates for her daughter Paige (my goddaughter!) and my fur-baby Freddie.  Paige can’t get enough of the Fredster, who she endearingly refers to as “Sheddie.”

She is SO excited!

She loves to run up and down the hallway with him, but even more, she loves to boss him  around.  ;)  She watches me and Jess tell Freddie to “sit” and “lay,” so she follows him around telling him to sit and come.  Poor Paige, Freddie certainly doesn’t acknowledge the “come here” command!  She also loves giving Freddie hugs, and if he happens to lay down to relax, she insists he gets up, so she wraps her arms around him and tries to lift him up.  It’s seriously the cutest thing for me to watch my adorable goddaughter and my sweet Fredster play and get along so well!

<3

Last week Jess and I decided to have a date night and create a new recipe.  I picked up a couple essentials after work and headed over.  Paige was happy to see me, but immediately lost interest when she got to see her BFF, Sheddie. 

As soon as Jess and I got into the kitchen I noticed an irresistable snack on her counter top.  I helped myself and dug right in.  :)

I haven't seen these in years...they're so addictive!

Jess and I agreed on some sort of pasta/shrimp dish with a naughty cream-based sauce.  We decided on Bacon Shrimp Pasta with Garlic Bread.

Jess made this cute kitchen chalkboard!

We started with multigrain rotini, bacon, shrimp, garlic, lemon, white wine and heavy whipping cream.  We put 4 strips of bacon in a skillet to start, then Jess cleaned the shrimp, and I seasoned them.  I used a few seasonings from Jess’ cabinet that looked tasty, including Cajun blackened seasoning!

Bacon makes everything better

Jess chopped some garlic, grated some lemon zest, and pulled a few sprigs of fresh basil from her backyard.

My beautiful BFF

Paige spent some time on her Mickey Mouse couch, with her stuffed dog (which she named Sheddie!). 

Oh, the life of a baby :)

We removed the bacon from the pan when it was finished, and added the seasoned shrimp to cook throughout.  Jess removed the cooked shrimp, and added some olive oil, white wine, and the garlic to the same pan.  Once the garlic was a little browned, she added the heavy cream and several cheeses.

 

While Jess worked on the sauce, I stopped eating my weight in panda snacks got to work on the garlic bread.  I bought an insanely good-smelling focaccia bread from the grocery on my way over.  It had bell peppers and onions baked into the top with cheese.  Oh MY!

 

I cut the focaccia through the middle, and spread margarine on each side.  Then I added fresh chopped garlic, Italian seasonings and parmesan cheese.  I cut each half into fourths before baking at 375 for about 5 minutes.  YUM!

Ignore the open panda snack box in the bottom-right corner...

When the pasta was finished, we strained it and added it right into the sauce pan.  Next we added the basil, shrimp and lemon zest, and stirred to coat the pasta. 

Paige kept busy by coloring Dancing Mickey’s shoes black! 

 

The final touch on the pasta was the chopped bacon, and we were ready to eat.

 

I started mixing our signature drink for the evening…Shirley Temples!  I combined Sprite and grenadine, and even Paige got some to try (she didn’t like it).

 

Paige's Pimp Cup

I served each of us, with a slice of garlic bread on the side.

Delicious!

Jess and I were happy to eat, since we were starved at this point, and Paige didn’t waste any time digging in.

 

Mother & Daughter

Jess and I each went back to the pan to scoop up some more of the sauce, because the pasta soaked it all up instantly.  I loved the flavor combinations, and I haven’t had a cream-based sauce in ages, so it was nice to indulge. 

After dinner, we played with Paige and Freddie while we watched the new season of America’s Next Top Model.  I’ve been telling Paige since she was born that she’d win that show without any effort when she’s older.  It will all come natural to her, of course, but I hope she’s watching for new pose ideas!

I had a great night cooking with my BFF and it was nice to spend some time with her outside of work.  We work at the same place, in the same building, just one floor away from each other, but I love spending some QT away from the office.  Paige totally loves Sheddie and it warms my heart to watch him be so sweet and well-behaved with a toddler. 

Paige & her stuffed Sheddie

MIA and Heavenly, Grilled Pizza

September 15, 2011

I’ve been MIA!  Last week was super busy at work and Jeff & I were camping for 4 days with his family, having a blast, so I’ve been slacking in the blog department.  Don’t worry, I’m totally making up for it with this life-changing recipe/post.

I have come across tons of blog posts and recipes for grilled pizza and have always been intrigued, but not gutsy enough to try it.  Plus, I don’t have a grill at my apartment…Well, I’ve read plenty of posts at mealsandmoves, and Janetha RAVES about how delicious her grilled pizzas are.  I decided Labor Day weekend was the perfect time to give it a try.  I texted Jeff early in the day and told him we were having an at-home cocktail hour, and we were going to GRILL pizza.  He was definitely intrigued.

I made a list of what I’d need for both the cocktails and the pizza, hit the grocery, and got started.  First up, the cocktails…I was in a Mad Men type of spirit, and since Jeff loves Don Draper almost as much as I do, I decided to make him an old fashioned.   

Jeff has an awesome coffee-table book called Vintage Cocktails by Assouline.  We pulled it out and I got started. 

I put the sugar cube into the glasses, added the blood orange bitters, an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. 

  

Then I got to work macerating everything together, and removed the orange peel.  I poured the bourbon and tonic over ice, and mixed it all up.  Voila!  It looked so tasty.

Now it was time to start dinner.  I decided to make a variation of one of the recipes I saw on Janetha’s blog…chicken and tomato pizza with pesto and 2 kinds of cheese-feta crumbles and shredded mozzarella.  I wanted to add olives and artichoke hearts, but totally forgot them at the grocery. 

Freddie was waiting patiently, even though I told him dogs don't eat pizza!

I salt-and-peppered both sides of two chicken breasts, and cooked them in a skillet on the stovetop.  Once they were finished, I shredded them up.

I used plain pizza dough from Trader Joe’s and rolled it out with flour on the counter top.  This took me a while, for some reason the dough wouldn’t cooperate.  

Stretch, already!

Maybe because I forgot to bring a rolling pin to Jeff’s and I was using a 2 Buck Chuck wine bottle???  ;)

I was making eyes at the camera man!

Eventually, I got it and we threw the rolled out dough onto the hot grill and let it sit for just a few minutes, then pulled it off.  It actually burnt through the middle a little, you can see that happening in this picture.

Oops!

I took some care and time to pull off some of the burnt bits, but the over-cooked part of the crust actually wound up being one of my favorite parts of the pizza.

Next, it was time for the toppings.  I spread the pesto out onto the dough and it smelled so good, I had to lick the knife when I was done.  Next up was the chicken, then the tomatoes, and finally the feta and mozzarella.

Mmm, pesto!

Yummy chicken!Lots of romas!With feta and mozarella, cheesy!

We shimmied the pizza back onto the grill, un-grilled/un-topped side down.  We closed the lid, and let it sit for about 5 minutes, then opened it up to see and smell heaven…on a pizza.

Grilling action!

I sliced this bad boy up, plated 2 slices each, and it was absolutely fabulous! 

After one bite I told Jeff I would never eat baked pizza again.  Seriously, I am going to sound like I am going overboard, but this was the greatest thing I have tasted in a long time.  The crust was smoky-flavored and had a nice and crunchy, grilled texture.  The pesto and the chicken blended perfectly, and the cheese was warm and melted.  I loved everything about this pizza and it was actually very easy to grill.

I recommend that all of you go out and grill a pizza ASAP.  You won’t be sorry.  Then you should relax on the couch with another old fashioned and your cute dog ;)

I hope you’re having a great week.  I’m getting back into the groove after enjoying life without my phone and computer while camping.  We had such a great time and I definitely didn’t want to leave the woods…neither did Freddie. 

A true mountain pup!

Doesn’t he look at home in wilderness?  :)

Chopped Appetizer Competition

August 31, 2011

Happy mid-week, everyone!

Today’s post is one I’m super excited about, because it was so much fun to document.  Every year a friend of mine hosts an appetizer cooking competition, in conjunction with her annual birthday BBQ.  Each year there is a different theme or challenge that we have to use for our appetizers.  There’s usually about 10-15 entries, and everyone at the BBQ is allowed to taste and judge.  Votes are cast for taste (1st, 2nd and 3rd place), and presentation (just one winner).  We even have a “trophy” for the winners…it’s a wooden rolling pin, and each year the winner is etched into the rolling pin to document their success!

After the competition last year’s Rick Bayless recipe competition, my friend announced that next year’s competition would be a Chopped challenge!  Is anyone else addicted to Chopped?  It’s honestly one of my favorite shows!

So, last year, we all wrote down an ingredient, she threw them all into a hat, and selected 4 ingredients.  The final 4 were: Ritz crackers, popcorn, cayenne pepper and cotton candy.  Right away, I felt these ingredients were too obscure, but knew I had a year to come up with something awesome to enter into the competition.

Over the weekend I spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen creating my appetizer.  I decided to do a fried ravioli bite with marinara dipping sauce.  My plan was to incorporate the 4 ingredients into some aspect of the dish, and hope that it comes out tasty and bring home a win!  Here’s the details on what I did!

First up was the marinara sauce.  My plan was to incorporate cotton candy here.  I’ve seen some recipes for homemade red sauce that include sugar, for a sweeter taste.  I was nervous about the cotton candy, but I assumed it would melt and incorporate to make my marinara sweet.

I started with a simple recipe from Giada de Laurentis from the FoodTV Network.  I started with the normal ingredients.  Crushed tomatoes, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, seasonings and olive oil.

I chopped up the onions and put them in the pot with olive oil for 10 minutes, then I added the chopped garlic, celery, carrots and threw some rosemary in too.  Have you seen these individual packs of fresh herbs at your grocery?  Not only are they cute, but it’s a smaller portion, so I don’t feel like I’m wasting herbs when I can’t finish the larger packs. 

  

Next, I added the cotton candy!  I was pleased to see that it dissolved up right away, and didn’t turn into a clumpy mass of sugar.  I just had to stir it up, and it incorporated throughout.

  

Once the veggies were soft, it was time to add the crushed tomatoes (Jeff opened the big cans for me, like a nice, sweet man!).

  

I added the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and seasonings, including thyme and dried sweet basil leaves.  I let this simmer on a low heat for about an hour.

  

And the marinara was done!  Next, I got started on the pasta.  Since I wanted to stuff my own raviolis, I decided to make homemade pasta…another thing I had never done before!  I bought some Bob’s Red Mill semolina flour from the grocery, and decided to just follow the recipe on the back of the package for the pasta.  The ingredients seemed easy enough…

  

I was concerned the actual process of making the pasta would be difficult, since I don’t have a pasta making machine. 

First, I piled the semolina in a heap on my cutting board and made a little well in it (I totally should have used a different color of cutting board, but you’ll get the point…).  Then I beat 2 eggs and the water in a measuring cup and recruited Jeff’s assistance once more.  He poured a little bit of the eggs into the well at a time, as I mixed it all together.

  

It was a bit of a messy process for a few reasons.  #1-you get eggs all over your hands…yuck!  #2-even though I looked up homemade pasta advice online, I ignored the one thing people stressed…only pour a little egg at a time!  If you don’t, the egg gets away from you and you have egg all over your kitchen counter.  That wasn’t documented with the camera, but yes, it happened!

So, once all the egg was mixed in, it started to come together.  I kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes, then wrapped it in cellophane and stuck it in the ‘fridge for an hour.  I learned that this helps the gluten proteins combine and strengthen the dough with elasticity, so it won’t tear apart when you’re working with it.

 

Moving on to the next Chopped ingredient…popcorn!  I wanted to use the popcorn inside the filling of the ravioli, as well as in the breading before I fried the raviolis.  In the spirit of making things from scratch, I bought kernels at Trader Joe’s and popped the corn on the stove-top…another first!

  

Per the instructions on the TJ’s bag, I put the olive oil in the bottom of a large pot.  I added 4 kernels and waited until they popped…

 

At this point, I was so excited I called Jeff over to watch as I added the remaining kernels and they quickly turned into a batch of fresh popcorn!

  

I stuck a couple handfuls of popcorn, along with some cayenne pepper into the bullet cup, and ground them up to make them like crumbs. 

  

I set the popcorn aside and got to work on the ravioli filling.  I decided to use hot Italian sausage, which I removed from the casing and cooked like ground turkey with garlic, along with some cotton candy (why not?!).  Once the sausage was cooked, I let it cool on a paper towel and I start mixing my filling.  I stirred it up with ricotta cheese, cayenne pepper and some popcorn .

 

Next up was the final Chopped ingredient.  I put a package of Ritz crackers, some Italian breadcrumbs, popcorn and cayenne pepper in the bullet cup and it was ready to be a coating!

 

Now it was time to pull it all together!  After taking the pasta out of the ‘fridge and letting it rest for 20 minutes, I rolled it out into thin, long strips of pasta.  I used a pizza cutter to cut the right sized pieces.

  

I took 1 square of pasta and piled some filing onto it.  Then I covered it with another square, and used a fork to close up the edges.

  

I wanted to try just one before entering it into the competition, so I heated some olive oil on the stove-top to fry this baby.  I coated the ravioli in buttermilk first, then the Ritz/cayenne/popcorn coating I made and fried it up!

  

I took it out when it was golden brown and sprinkled sea salt and parmesan cheese on top.  I served the ravioli up with a side of marinara sauce, and Jeff and I dug in.

  

We decided it was tasty!  I really like the sweetness of the cotton candy marinara, with the heat from the cayenne and sausage.  I did think that there was too much excess pasta, so as I was preparing the rest of the raviolis, I used just one square of pasta, and shaped them more into a circular pouch, what I wound up calling ravioli nuggets, or ravioli bites! 

I cleaned up the kitchen, packed up the goods, and we headed to my friend’s house.  I fried them up there, right before plating for the competition.

  

(Also pictured: an ice cold Shock Top…well deserved after a hard day spent in the kitchen!)

At this point, the camera action came to an end because it was time to taste all the yummy creations!  We had 10 entries this year, 2 of which were dessert entries, the rest were savory.  Sadly, I did not win, but I sure had fun tasting everyone’s dishes!  The winner was a chicken tender on a stick, with a chipotle/cotton candy dipping sauce.  The sauce was so amazing, and definitely the hottest (spiciest) entry!  I love me some spice!

After the completion, we all hung out for hours, chatting and enjoying the company.  We also found out next year’s theme….it’s another Chopped challenge!  This time we all wrote down 4 ingredients: 1 vegetable, 1 meat, 1 spice and 1 “whacked out” item.  Then my friend pulled 4 cards, and took 1 ingredient from each category.  Next year’s ingredients are: corn, bacon, cumin and sunflower seeds.  I don’t think they sound too challenging, but I’m also blown away by the creativity and talent of our group of friends and family!

The rest of the weekend was spent with Jeff, Freddie & friends.  We spent time with Orange County friends, and took Freddie to the beach in Corona Del Mar.  He wasn’t allowed off-leash, but he sure seemed to enjoy the ocean air!

  

Have a great rest of your week!

Chicken on the Bone!

August 26, 2011

I’m super excited to post my first recipe.  It was totally out of my comfort zone, so I’ve got to admit I was skeptical from the beginning. 

RECIPE!

Today’s recipe is one I found when I was browsing Iowa Girl Eats blog a few weeks ago.  Chili & Lime Chicken Legs!  If you know me (which, I’m sure all 2 of you do!) you know I do NOT eat chicken on the bone.  I think it stems from a fear I have of eating a chicken bone and choking…who knows?  Jeff shares the same dislike for bones in his chicken, but I knew if he got to use his BBQ, he’d be game for trying this recipe out. 

I picked up some organic chicken legs from Trader Joe’s.  Since I’ve never made chicken legs before, I was surprised by the cheap price – 6 legs for just $2.19! 

The goods

Jeff started firing up the grill, and I got to work on the legs.  I rubbed each leg with some olive oil and laid them out of a cookie sheet.  I used garlic powder, ground cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper, with some salt and pepper for the seasoning, and rubbed it into to all sides of the chicken legs.

Spice-a-licious!

 Next, I prepared some corn-on-the-cob for the grill.  I absolutely love grilled corn, and thought it would be the perfect complement to the meal.  I used a little bit of butter, salt & pepper, and lemon pepper seasoning, before wrapping the cobs in foil.

corn
Time to husk!

 Jeff put everything on the grill, over a pretty hot heat.  He also let the grill itself heat up before putting the legs and corn on. 

Nice & Hot

By this time, it was dark outside, so I had to play with my camera settings for a few shots before I got a good one.  I played Words With Friends while we waited 10 minutes.  Then Jeff flipped the legs and the corn.  Everything was sizzling and popping, so we half expected to open up the foil and find popcorn! 

I set the timer for another 10 minutes, and got to work on some Minute Rice brown rice (it cooks SO much quicker than regular brown rice, and it tastes just as good!).  Once the rice was done, the chicken and corn was ready to come off the grill.  I squeezed the legs with fresh lime slices, and covered it with foil to tent and steam for 5 minutes.

My shortcut for the evening...

I cut the corn off the cob (I hate getting corn bits stuck in my teeth!), plated up our dinner, and voilà!  All that in less than 30 minutes.  

Stop taking pictures, I want to eat!

We sat down to eat, and the meal was so good!  The chicken had a crisp, seasoned crust on the outside, with moist, lime-y meat on the inside.  I didn’t care there was a bone involved, and powered through 3 legs!  The corn was so wonderful, I thought about stealing some off of Jeff’s plate, but I let him enjoy his!  :)  I squeezed a lime wedge over my corn and rice to tie the flavors all together.  Good idea!

We both decided the meal was worth the sacrifice of eating chicken on the bone!  I think I’ll make it again!  Here’s the recipe for the chicken legs:

Chili & Lime Chicken Legs

Ingredients:

  • 6 chicken legs
  • Olive oil
  • Ground cumin
  • Garlic powder
  • Chili powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt & pepper
  • 3 lime wedges (1 lime wedge for every 2 legs)

 Directions:

  1. Fire up your grill!  We used a charcoal grill.
  2. Coat all chicken legs with olive oil.
  3. Sprinkle each seasoning over the chicken legs and rub them in with the olive oil. Season it to your liking, I went heavy on the cumin and the chili powder to make the legs extra flavorful and spicy.
  4. Put the chicken legs directly over the coals on the grill and leave them there for 10 minutes with the grill closed.
  5. After 10 minutes, flip the legs over.  Wait another 10 minutes and remove the legs from the grill.
  6. Immediately squeeze 1 lime wedge over every 2 legs, then cover with foil for 5 minutes. 
  7. After 5 minutes, serve those legs up with some grilled veggies and rice or a salad and enjoy!

 WORKOUT!

I started running again on Monday morning.  Jeff joined me and we hit the pavement around 530am and did a quick run downtown and back.  It was just over a mile and my cardiovascular must be way out of shape.  I labored through and felt so good when we were done!  After the run, I leashed up Freddie and completed a half mile walk.  I always feel awful for putting on my running shoes and then leaving without him.  I usually run with him, but we didn’t bring him along this time.  He was really happy when I walked through the door and immediately put his collar on. 

Run #2 is planned for tomorrow morning and I’m thinking I’ll bump it up to a full 2 miles.  I’m bummed that I’m starting back at square one, since just a few months ago I ran 13.1 miles!  But, I’m VERY excited to get back into running.  It truly is a joy that has been missing the last few months.

Hope you’re having a great week!

thefreckledcook is in the house

August 21, 2011
 

Actually, thefreckledcook is in the blog world!  After dreaming about the posts I would write and practicing taking pictures of my food, I have finally decided to start a blog.  I’m excited to start posting my kitchen quests, as well as other fun happenings in my freckled life!

The pooch & I

My name is Leslie and I am a 27-year-old event manager that loves to cook, run and just about anything outdoors.  I have an awesome family, fun friends, a cute boyfriend, Jeff, and an energetic dog, Freddie Mercury.  My interest in cooking started a few years ago when I wanted to eat at home more often to save money, and save calories.  Over the last year and a half that interest has grown into a love!  I really enjoy trying new recipes and using friends and family as guinea pigs.  I like to put my own spin on recipes I come across, whether that means altering ingredients to make something a bit healthier, or adding some spices to heat a dish up. 

The boyfriend & I <3

I started running a little over a year ago when I decided to run a 1/2 marathon with a good friend.  We ran our first 1/2 together in February 2011 at the Huntington Beach Surf City, and I loved it!  I took a hiatus to focus on some strength training, but recently became re-dedicated to running.  I’m hoping to run my first full marathon in 2012 and am looking forward to the training.

At the finish line of the Surf City 1/2

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy reading about my attempts at culinary prowess, my journey to meet my health and running goals, and my adventures with Freddie!


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